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Remembering Saint Lawrence: Deacon and Martyr

In The End, Only Love is Creative.

Pope St. John Paul II said on many occasions that in the end, only love is creative. St.Lawrence, deacon and martyr, epitomized this truth. He was one of the seven deacons of Rome and was put to death on August 10th, 258 AD. Since then, the Church, especially in Rome, has celebrated the life and death of this remarkable saint. (And I am personally devoted to St. Lawrence because it was on his feast day that Vince Hansen and I were ordained as deacons.)

Lawrence was a martyr, a word which derives from the Greek word, martyria, which means one who gives witness. In the case of the holy deacon Lawrence, he sacrificed his life to witness to Christ and the gospel during a persecution by the Roman emperor Valerian in 258 AD. His martyrdom was three days after Pope Sixtus and six of his seven deacons had been arrested while celebrating the Eucharist at the cemetery of St. Callixtus. He was quickly condemned to death and beheaded.

According to several early Christian writers, Lawrence, in anticipation of his own martyrdom, began to sell off the possessions of the Church of Rome (threatened with confiscation by the persecutors) and distribute the proceeds to the poor. When the prefect of Rome heard of his action, he reportedly had the deacon brought before him and demanded he appear in three days with treasury of the Church.

Lawrence readily agreed to his demand and after three days returned to the prefect accompanied by the poor, the blind, the crippled and the orphaned, and told him they were the Church’s true treasure. The prefect was furious and had Lawrence bound to a red-hot gridiron, which he endured with great equanimity and even humor, reportedly telling his torturers, “You can turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

Throughout the first three hundred years of the Christian era, the followers of Jesus were persecuted and killed by the Roman authorities. The Roman authorities accused believers of being unpatriotic atheists and dangerous subversives. Christians were notorious for refusing to worship the emperor; for their public condemnation of abortion and infanticide; for their strict sexual morality; for never imposing the death penalty when serving as magistrates; for denouncing gladiatorial games as public murder; for avoiding lewd and immoral entertainment and for their conscientious objection to service in the empire’s military forces.

In their daily lives, Christians witnessed to God’s infinite and transforming holiness and love revealed most perfectly in Jesus. In their compassion for the poor, lives of integrity and merciful love of neighbor, Christians like Lawrence were impossible to ignore. The way they lived and died was a repudiation of the heartlessness, moral corruption and crushing violence of their world. Tradition tells us his martyria was so compelling that it led to the conversion of the people of Rome to Christ.

The example of St. Lawrence has inspired generations of Christians over the centuries to love the poor and those in need as “the treasure of the Church.” In our own time, we too should be inspired by his steadfast witness to how much Christ and the Church cherishes all those who are of little account in the world’s reckoning.

As I meditate on the story of St. Lawrence, his example is a reminder to overcome my fear and hesitation and speak up for the truth in every situation, however unpopular that truth may be. His sacrifice challenges me to try to live out as best I can, the kenotic, self-emptying love of Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served. And aided by the prayers and example of St. Lawrence, I want to imitate the non-violent way of Christ that this holy deacon adhered to till the end.

On Lawrence’s feast day, in the Roman Canon (The First Eucharistic Prayer) and in the Litany of the Saints, we remember this great witness to Christ, united with Jesus and the saints in glory forever and invoke his prayers. By way of contrast, who remembers, except as a footnote to Lawrence’s life, the supposedly all-powerful and divine emperor who put him to death?

In the end, only love is creative, that is to say, love is the only firm foundation on which to build a life, a culture and a civilization.

St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, pray for us!

– Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 x 23. Email:

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